From Interpretation to Conversation

The video with Dr. Nancy Proctor was interesting because of the new ways of thinking about mobile in the museum that she brought up (well, new for me). I found it remarkable that the Smithsonian had 30 million physical visitors in 2010, but 180 million virtual visitors. With those numbers alone, institutions can no longer ignore their virtual presence. I appreciated her point that a museum should also model the internet as a network, meaning that no one point can destroy it. I think this is especially needed today with the shaky economy—we need to make sure that one weakness will not bring the whole museum down.

Despite needing an online presence, Dr. Proctor also said that it is not about the technology, it’s about the content. This is reassuring for my group’s mobile project because it is not about what platform we choose, it’s about the information we are sharing. And it is also about providing a place for people to share their experiences with local food, and going from “interpretation to conversation.” I was also pleased to know that our mobile project is targeting a growing niche market, but has not reached a mass market yet. Since we are thinking about continuing our project after the class, I will be working on making sure that we keep in mind the 6 principles that mobile projects should be, including being aligned with our mission and strategic goals, continue to create new opportunities for engagement, and be sustainable. Our liabilities for mobile devices in our project are similar to what museums face: how will we find funding to keep up with the next best thing in mobile? How will we make our project a network so that one thing cannot destroy us?

As far as how graduate and undergraduate public history courses can use mobile devices, I would suggest continuing to encourage large projects that require the use of the devices, including writing blogs, designing tours in gowalla, and creating websites that are mobile-enabled. Just encouraging students to think about mobile projects can go a long way in helping students to think creatively and innovatively. By training students now, they will bring all of this mobile learning to public history projects in general. I know that as I have been working on the Department of Arts and History website, I have tried to think about ways I could make it easier for mobile visitors, and for people using the website on regular desktops.  I think we all need to remember though that it is still the content or knowledge that we are passing on that is the most important aspect, and the platform is second.

My Federal Woes

Thomas King let the heritage laws really have it in his book. The sad thing is that at the end of May I am going to attend Section 106 training in Seattle. Now I’m left with the question: what is the point? How will I be any different than the rest of the people that King rails against? Will I just be a client’s advocate for their projects, even if they will destroy significant historic buildings? I think I will be one of the well meaning ones, but will my actions just perpetuate the uselessness of the laws? Can new trainees introduced to Section 106 begin to change the status quo? I do think that if we can appeal to all conservatives and liberals alike, perhaps this is the time that the laws can be reformed to better protect our environment and our cultural landscapes. An appeal to private property rights and traditional ways of life might work to build support for this reform. And if it proves to save money, there would be more support. I was expecting that King would leave me with more enthusiasm and that change could happen to the laws, but I am about as discouraged as I was from the first chapter. My only comfort is to try and define how I will operate within the system, and to keep in mind what King has written. But isn’t that how we got where we are?

Selective History?

“I won’t disallow the White Soul its pleasure in celebrating Jim Crow and the Confederacy. I can only hope that those who celebrate a centuries long tradition of treason, slavery, rape, exploitation, and death own the blood on their hands. Why? Because a person cannot truly celebrate a thing without taking ownership of all its aspects…good and bad alike.”

The above quote made me think about history events that we celebrate, which public historians are more than likely involved with. Like 100 yr building birthday bashes or the 75th celebration of a company.

Do we take ownership of the good and the bad when we do public history? Let’s just limit the discussion to the American West. I would say that in many cases we do not, but does that make it bad history? Do we not learn from it? I do not know the answers, but I thought I would ask. I have a hunch that we only select the history that appeals to us, and whoever our constituents might be.

Last American Pirate

These were the exact words I wrote as I was reading the Last American Pirate:

“The Last American Pirate reminded me how much fun history is! I hope to have as much fun researching something soon!”

And then…

“Uggh, it was all fake. I thought maybe it sounded too good when I read the will, but whatever. I get what they were trying to do, but it makes me pretty mad. And if you were to put on a public history project like this, people would really enjoy it and be engaged, but then they would be madder than hell at being tricked. I’ll laugh later at their trick, but not right now. It calls into the whole question of objectivity in professional historians. No wonder historical fiction is so much popular- people are expecting some lies in that form.”

Do you see why I am both upset and disappointed at being duped? Even days after reading the blog, I am still mad and can’t write objectively. I’m sad that I was tricked, even in the name of trying to be taught a lesson. I am still hopeful that one day we might all find the same passion for our own Last American Pirate. I guess even if we have to make it up.

Suggested Readings for April 11

Hi Class!

I just wanted to post my suggested readings for you. I’ve enjoyed the following sites:

Brochure tours of King County, WA that focus on agriculture, maritime, and industry

This site contains the final report for a historic and scenic corridors project in King County, WA.

This site explores the history of the Port of Seattle, which turns 100 this year.

I hope you find these as fun as I did!

Historic Preservation Part II

I have to admit I have a difficult time getting back into school after spring break, so I apologize ahead of time if my post is not particularly moving or insightful. This week’s reading was really interesting, but I am going to try and focus on a few ideas that really stuck out to me. Chapter 9 and chapter 11 were enjoyable readings since they followed very closely to my interests in the histories of downtowns and sprawl. The readings have helped to reinforce the vital role that historic preservation plays in creating dynamic and interesting communities. I think that is why I have had an interest in the Main Street program before this, because it is a way that communities can revitalize their downtown areas while being pursuing preservation. Like the book points out, historic preservation needs to be a part of growth, a part of changing communities. It can’t be preservation for preservation sake, but also needs to consider preserving a way of life or shopping habits by working to keep established businesses in the core.

One of the downsides of this discussion that I need to address is to ask the question: Why do we need to preserve our downtowns? To some they are the remnants of a time when things needed to be centralized, and they served all people’s needs. But today, with sprawling shopping centers and big box stores, what else can a downtown be but office towers? Don’t get me wrong, I love downtowns and believe whole-heartedly that they should be preserved, and all I want to do is work and live in downtown. But downtowns are no longer the same places that they once were, and people struggle monumentally to keep them the same. The book proposes restrictive zoning that would force ‘traditional downtown’ business types to stay downtown, but is this really the answer? It didn’t work in Boise when they tried to force a mall into the downtown; they fought from the 1960s to the mid 1980s before they gave up and the mall located where it wanted to, which was the suburbs. I love downtowns and want them to stay viable and successful, but I think we need to re-envision something different (other than restrictive zoning) for them that will actually give them a fighting chance.

This leads directly into chapter eleven’s discussion of preserving farmland and open spaces on the periphery of cities. I find that I am also very passionate about preserving rural landscapes and working farms for both the environmental and historic Preservation arguments. I think that if we can combat sprawl this way, revitalizing our downtown cores will come naturally. I am also very interested in how to increase cultural tourism in Boise. I think it will give current residents a better sense of place, it will bring new people here and our local economy will improve, as well as our livability.

Historic Preservation and Livability

I just have some random musings about the reading this week and the role that historic preservation plays in making cities more livable. The theme that I pulled out is that historic preservation has the most influence on the local level, and it is the only place that protection can be effectively regulated. It is also the only level that can provide the most economical and environmental benefits to the community. Several sources are beginning to rediscover that historic preservation is important to the local economy, as well as the cultural tourism economy. The new ‘green’ initiative (well new to some but it can be traced back to the 1960s) is beginning to discover historic preservation as part of the key to combat sprawl and save natural resources. Many historic buildings were designed with their environment in mind and took advantage of natural sunlight and heating and cooling techniques, making them as efficient as any other building, minus the new LEED certified buildings. For a resource of ‘green’ historic buildings, go to, click on History, and then go to Tours and Maps. There is a walking tour brochure about historic buildings downtown that use geothermal heat. 
In addition to this, I just want to comment on the BAP post about buildings in danger here in Boise. BAP’s work plays an important role in garnering local support for historic preservation. It takes almost an entire community to preserve their historic character, and it takes constant education and outreach to build the type of support needed to get required ordinances and partnerships in place that can assist. Education plays such  a crucial role in this mix because you first have to have the community find value in the buildings before they will be passionate enough to fight for preservation. If we can continue to build local support, then the cultural tourism economy in Boise can begin to florish because we will have intact historic districts that are lively and contribute greatly to the local sense of place.

Museum Politics, Part II

The main aspect of this week’s reading that intrigued me is still the claim from Timothy Luke that museums are places of power, that they can “fabricate a nation’s consciousness.” Perhaps I am finding it difficult to come to the same conclusions as Luke is because I have not visited very many large musuems, and have not witnessed exhibits that were controversial. I have visited mostly small museums, the largest being the Oregon Trail Center in Oregon. I can begin to see how such a large exhibit like the Oregon Trail one can begin to shape a nation’s consciousness, but what about exhibits in smaller musuems? I think I better go visit some more musuems with Luke’s conclusions in mind, and see for myself. What type of power plays become evident in a small museum?

The other interesting part of the reading hit me while I was reading about the United States Holocaust Museum.  Luke appears to value low-technology museums more than the high-technology ones, as far as the values participants could garner from those types of exhibits. What does this mean for museums trying to engage their audiences with a variety of technologies? Are participants getting the same value from an online exhibit as they would get in person? What if they are using a mobile device to explore the museum? Thinking about these issues, I started to wonder what it might mean for our digital projects, and whether or not we could expect our projects to serve as valuable learning experiences. I believe that they will, but taking into consideration what Luke said about the United States Holocaust Museum, could our technology fail to send our participants away with valuable information, or a significant moment of epitome? Knowing this, what can we do in our individual projects to help solve this and allow our audience to have a connection to our project/message? I feel that this week’s reading from Luke has left me with more questions than answers, and the desire to go explore the exhibits at the Idaho State Historial Museum and the Capitol to see what types of values that they are trying to instill in me.

Museums as ideoloical battlefields?

The theme I found interesting for this week’s reading was that museums are places that perpetuate political and ideological agendas of particular people and institutions. According to Luke, their exhibits, and sometimes their entire collection, portray one set  of values. This came as a surprise to me, since I figured museums were objective, and picked exhibits that would appeal to the widest audience.

The other part of this reading that I found interesting was about the exhibit that explored the West and the various ways that it has been romanticized. The dichotomy of the real western frontier and the hollywood version are concepts that I have come across before, but that helped me read this book because I understood better how the museum was criticizing the inherent view of the West. It also reminded me of the West as a place, and as a concept. That’s where the Virginian comes in comparison to this reading, where an Eastern writer portrays “western” values and the epitome of a man, and how that gets perpetuated through time. I honestly want to keep my inherited visions of the West, while at the same time understanding the truth and how the preconception I have was started.

In addition, I am very interested on the role museums play to create the “ideal” citizen by what they display and the values that the artifact/artwork perpetuates. The concept of museums as  places that sterilize and purify the versions of history or values they want to portray intrigued me. This is just a side note, and not a fully developed concept in my mind that I can express eloquently. I have come across schools as places that create the “ideal” citizen, so I am intrigued how both work together since school children visit museums (or did at one time) to tag team the creation of responsible citizens.

Love the Center for History and New Media!

I found the Center for History and New Media very interesting, engaging, and inspiring. Let me explain first why I am writing primarily about the Center for History and New Media. After reading and exploring The Spatial History Project and the work being done on 3D modeling of Washington, D.C. in the “The Beginning of the Road,” I was beginning to be discouraged. These two projects have so many awesome attributes, and they make you think, “oh, wow, how come no one else has looked at it this way yet?” The integration of GIS and other visual-oriented aspects of history is, in my opinion, the best way to engage a large audience in learning about history. But, who has the budget and the resources to make projects like the Spatial History Project happen? Not very many institutions within the State of Idaho do. I believe Idaho State University is the best poised to make it happen since they have a Master’s in History that is partnered with GIS. Other than this, who has the time, the staff, and most importantly, the money to make it happen? History has often been reduced to people working on it in their spare time, and this can be seen particularly in “The Beginning of the Road.” Maybe I am frustrated at this since our Public History Career interviews, and I am trying to come to terms with how much history gets done because people care enough to give their free time over to it, and the larger population expects it to be done for free or very little money. This dynamic is frustrating.

Anyways, back to the Center for History and New Media. It cheered me up to see the varied ways that museums (and by extension other history-related organizations), can use existing technologies to engage their audiences. This is partly exciting because of our mobile project for the class. It shows that there are a multitude of platforms that can be used, and perhaps the best is creating a website that is mobile friendly. I really liked the online archives and exhibits—what a great way to create content that can live on even when the exhibit moves. After this reading I am really excited about Omeka, and plan to bring it into my work as the City Historian. I’m also going to look more into the book Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web. I think that it will be extremely helpful in my work.